“You have to be like Superman to your kids.”
This was my uncle’s advice to me. My wife and I had a two-year-old boy at the time. I thought I was doing a fine job, so I didn’t think this piece of advice was aimed particularly at me. Maybe it was, but I think it was more of a general M.O. he thought all dads should follow. Man to man, dad to dad, this was the wisdom he wanted to pass on to me.
In his way, he was being supportive, giving his nephew a heads-up. It was nice that he cared enough to talk with me about parenting. I’m keenly interested in parenting and will talk about it any chance I get, but I don’t think the heads-up he was giving is all that useful.
I probed and asked him what he meant. I didn’t honestly know what a Superman Dad was supposed to do. He said a Superman Dad needed to be strong, capable, and be like a hero to his kids.
On their own, strong and capable aren’t bad things. They are both qualities that I respect and admire. It was the lack of any other advice, nothing to balance out strong and capable, that rubbed me the wrong way. It sounded like he was talking about an old male archetype, some two-dimensional tough guy. This is what he meant by “hero”.
That night I laid in bed thinking, “Superman Dad, really?” Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pull that off! Sometimes I’m not strong, sometimes I goof up, and sometimes I need help. Superman, I am not. I suppose you could try to fake it though. I don’t think you would be the first dad to try. You wouldn’t be the first dad to put on a brave face for his family.
But why? Why would we do this? Why would this be the advice from a trusted family member? Why do other dads encourage this? Why do we encourage putting on a show, especially for our sons? The logic seems shady. The motives hint at insecurity. No one is Superman—not even Superman. So who pretends to be something they are not, and why?
Hero Superdad is someone who doesn’t feel okay with who he is, someone who feels he won’t be accepted for who he is. He is someone who knows he won’t be accepted for his flaws and frailties. He knows this from experience. This is what I could come up with lying in bed, and I felt sad about it. It must be hard living a life of pretend and never feeling good enough.
I choose to look at parenting a different way. I think there is a gigantic strength in being exactly who you are. Holding up an artifice is tiring anyway, even for Superman. Facades eventually break down, crumble, and leave mess and confusion in their wake.
Being authentic is what actually frees you. It’s where you actually find strength. When we are real, when we are honest, we are strong.
Authentic is the new strong. Truth is your new superpower. If you aren’t feeling confident, that’s okay. If you need help, ask for it. If you are scared of something, say so. Not only will it free you from unrealistic expectations, you’ll provide your children with a real man, and a real model to learn from.
You will be rewarded, not just with some short-lived awe and admiration that you managed to coax out of a small child, but with an enduring sense of love and trust from your kids and those around you. And that stuff is the real deal.
“You have to be strong, be their hero, never let them see you sweat (or cry).” I call BS.
Be real. Be vulnerable. Be you.
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